Appalachian communities hoping to build a new outdoor economy see threat from Trump (100 Days in Appalachia)

After years of building their regional economy around extractive industries, many Appalachian communities now are tapping into their bountiful outdoor assets to draw tourists—-and perhaps manufacturers and other job creators.

Places like Roanoke, Virginia, have created a new model for economic development, pairing traditional lures like workforce and infrastructure with an emphasis on livability and access to outdoor recreation.

Substantial challenges remain, however—-including President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which would gut a number of programs crucial to economic diversification efforts.

Read the story at 100 Days in Appalachia.

100 days in, here’s what Donald Trump has meant for Appalachia (Vice)

Donald Trump dominated Appalachia on Election Day, 2016, and he wasted no time in loosening regulations on the region’s coal industry. In the big picture, however, the regulatory shifts mean an extension of the status quo.

His proposed budget, however, which would gut the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, the USDA’s infrastructure budget and other programs crucial to economic development efforts, may well wipe out any job gains from the coal industry.

For Vice, I tried to sort out the impact of federal actions on Appalachia under Trump. Read it here.

Arson and the wildfires that ate Gatlinburg (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

In November, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was scorched by a human-started wildfire that escaped Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) and killed at least 14 people and destroying more than 700 houses and businesses.

The fire was started by people, but it was aided by the steep slopes, overgrown brush and tightly packed buildings in the tourist town.

Read more at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Unsolved mysteries of the Blue Ridge (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

Statistically, crime in public wildlands is relatively rare. Most crime there tends to be vandalism or illegal dumping. As is the case with crime generally, violent crime on public lands tends to be domestic, occurring between people who know each other.

But occasionally something bad happens. Unsolved mysteries on public wildlands grip our imaginations, in part because they took place at the places we play.

For Blue Ridge Outdoors, I looked at unsolved homicides and a mysterious disappearance. Read the story here.

How a billionaire Democrat could win election as governor in one of Trump’s strongest states (Politico Magazine)

When the billionaire entered the primary, longtime politicos scoffed. He had no political experience, had switched parties repeatedly over the previous decades, and had a spotty track record in business. Yet he vanquished his establishment candidates in the primary and headed into the general election running an unorthodox campaign based around his personality.

It’s not Donald Trump, of course, but Jim Justice, West Virginia’s only billionaire and owner of the Greenbrier Resort and the largest privately held coal company east of the Mississippi River. Justice stands as a figure simultaneously beloved—he coaches high-school basketball and bailed out the historic Greenbrier when it faced potential closure—and reviled, as his coal company has developed a reputation for not paying debts, taxes or environmental obligations.

Read more about Justice, his Republican opponent Bill Cole, and what may be the weirdest undercard election in America at Politico Magazine.

Why forests need fire (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

In June, I visited Shenandoah National Park to see portions of the 10,234 acres scorched by the wildfire in April. Already, it’s hard to tell there were 60 foot flames just a couple of months ago.

I wrote about the fire, as well as controversy over prescribed burning in Linville Gorge, for Blue Ridge Outdoors in a story that also featured a rare photo shot by me (the panorama from Brown Mountain Overlook).

Read the wildfire story at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Getting along with bears in an increasingly crowded Appalachia (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

I’ve been fascinated by bears as long as I can remember. Most people are.

I remember run-ins with bears as my family camped in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the last couple of years I’ve observed more bears around my home in Floyd County.

For Blue Ridge Outdoors, I reported and wrote a longish story on our relationship with bears that’s broken down into three chapters:

Chapter 1: “When Bears Attack”
Chapter 2: “Bear Hunting”
Chapter 3: “Bears in the Backyard”

Read the Bear Truth at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Extreme car camping with Mountain State Overland (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

Much like its subject, Mountain State Overland, this story took a twisy, wandering path to publication, occasionally getting stuck in mud holes or having to find an alternate route.

The adventuring filmmakers of MSO are mapping their own version of Appalachia and the East Coast using GPS technology, up-fitted four-wheel-drive vehicles and digital video.

The group is part of the latest revival of overlanding—a trend that really never went away. Consider overlanding a high-tech, revved-up version of car camping, albeit one that allows access to areas that few get to see.

Read the story at Blue Ridge Outdoors.